Judging by the critical comments from reviewers, I might be in a minority of viewers actually enjoying Channel 4’s hybrid reality show Murder Island, where teams of amateur detectives compete to crack a grisly case and win £50,000.
It’s a hybrid because it mixes crime drama – the mystery of who stabbed eco-warrior Charly Hendricks to death on a remote Scottish island (actually it’s Gigha) – with reality TV, as it allows four pairs of ordinary people to try to solve the puzzle.
The teams include Dot and Rox, who had to be told not to stand in a pool of blood at the crime scene, and who became best friends when they started to work together in their local pub in London.
Then there is engaged London couple, Sarah and Richmond – who studied criminology at university. Next up is Chrissie, 77, and her next door neighbour Caroline, 64, who met 30 years ago at their local amateur dramatic society in Staffordshire.
Finally there is ambitious brothers-in-law, Andrew and Nick –Andrew lets us know in the first episode that his father and grandfather were detectives.
What gives me most pleasure about the series is perfectly captured by Andrew’s comment about his father and grandfather’s former profession – they were detectives and now, largely because of crime dramas on TV, film and in novels – everyone now thinks that they can do the job. I hear it all the time – “How difficult can this be?”, “It’s all about forensic science”, “I think that I could be a profiler”.
And of course in crime drama, and even in crime documentaries, the killer usually gets caught within the hour by the dogged, maverick detective.
In reality I’ve yet to encounter a maverick detective and most of those that I meet and work with on homicide squads work extraordinary long and stressful hours unlike their uniformed colleagues who might have the similar stresses but who work structured shift patterns.
The killer is rarely caught within the “working day”.
I also know that homicide detectives need a special skill set as complex investigations are usually laborious and often boring. This is because they require painstaking analysis and real attention to detail.
I’ve watched some detectives who seem to be permanently on the verge of being overwhelmed by the workload and paperwork but who keep on going at the cost of their own personal lives.
Nor are they paid overtime for doing this work. As a result, in England and Wales very few police officers want to become detectives and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary called the current lack of trained detectives a “national disgrace”.
The Police Federation’s National Detectives Forum estimates that there are 5000 vacant investigators posts across all forces in the UK.
A recent Freedom of Information request to Police Scotland about vacancies north of the border pointed out that there were differences in how these matters get accounted and therefore avoided the direction question of “what is your force’s current shortage of investigators – eg how many positions are vacant/unfilled?” I can’t provide a precise figure but anecdotally I have been told that the long hours and the stresses are just as much a factor here in deterring uniformed officers to want to become detectives as they are in England.
So by all means let’s consume Murder Island as entertainment.
However, just keep in mind that in the same way that watching Casualty doesn’t mean you have been trained to be a nurse or a doctor, nor is having a fascination with crime shows – or even a father or a grandfather who were detectives – much of a preparation for becoming a detective.
Oh, and yes – I worked out who the killer was in the first episode.